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TODAY contributor
updated 4/29/2009 4:07:04 PM ET 2009-04-29T20:07:04

Q. I read your advice about leaving an abusive husband. What advice do you have for a man who has been physically abused (I have never hit back) and who is demeaned verbally for being out of work for an extended period of time. (I work part-time.) I love my wife but am worried that by staying I don’t love myself.

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A. My advice to an abused man is the same as my advice to an abused woman — leave.

The situation of a man being physically or emotionally abused by a wife parallels that of a woman being abused by a husband. A woman, even if she isn’t as strong, can absolutely hurt or cripple a man. She can use a car, knife, fire, blunt object or other weapon.

In many ways, domestic violence against a man is more hidden. Cases of this are very much underreported. Men often find it difficult to confide in others, because revealing their abuse is so counter to masculine culture, which makes it seem shameful and weak to be so bullied. Their friends and family cannot help because they don’t know about it. Sometimes a couple will enter therapy and not reveal to the therapist that abuse is going on, which prevents any real change from happening. Treatment can be helpful in some circumstances if the abusive woman is intent on change. However, just as is the case with a male abuser ... it is likely to continue.

Men often are afraid to defend themselves or don’t want to hit back. Sometimes this is because they have been so emotionally broken down that they believe they deserve their abuse, just as emotionally abused women often do. Emotional abuse is often harder to define by men. Constant harsh criticism, name calling, systematic tearing down and isolating you from others are patterns of emotional abuse and can be every bit as destructive as physical abuse.

There is also the sense that men are stronger and therefore more dangerous. But women have killed their husbands, and not only in self-defense. Even if a woman doesn’t have a weapon, she can cause a man serious and even disabling injury.

You must protect yourself and remove yourself from this situation before it escalates. I suggest you take the same protective safeguards a woman should — quietly plan a way out, and go somewhere where you will be safe. If need be, get the police involved. Women are just as capable of stalking as men; consider an order of protection.

In the U.S., men as well as women can get free, confidential, anonymous help any time from the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). The TTY number for the hearing-impaired is 1-800-787-3224. The Web site is ndvh.org.

Dr. Gail’s Bottom Line: Men who are physically abused, just like women who are, should leave before the situation becomes even more dangerous.

Any ideas, suggestions in this column are not intended as a substitute for consulting your physician or mental health professional. All matters regarding emotional and mental health should be supervised by a personal professional. The author shall not be responsible or liable for any loss, injury or damage arising from any information or suggestion in this column.

Dr. Gail Saltz is a psychiatrist with New York Presbyterian Hospital and a regular contributor to TODAY. Her most recent book is “The Ripple Effect: How Better Sex Can Lead to a Better Life” (Rodale). For more information, please visit www.drgailsaltz.com.

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